January 21, 2014

A new voice in dementia care

PLATTSBURGH — Though they may seem bizarre to others, Naomi Feil believes the words and actions of elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s-type dementia hold deep meaning.

“There’s always a reason that people do what they do,” said the developer of validation therapy, an alternative method for working with elderly who are severely disoriented.

The best way to discover those reasons and help such people find resolve, she told the Press-Republican, is to keep them communicating on some level.

“It’s a self-healing model,” said Feil, the founder and director and chief of the Validation Training Institute, which offers workshops and courses on her techniques throughout the world.


Meadowbrook Healthcare Administrator Paul Richards had the opportunity to observe her teachings several years ago and recently decided it was time to educate his current staff on validation therapy.

Feil, who received her master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, agreed to come to Plattsburgh, where she conducted two training seminars on dementia care: one for Meadowbrook employees and another for other members of the local health-care community.

Richards said that with people now living into their 90s and 100s, age-related diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s are becoming more common. However, he continued, the traditional methods used to care for such patients, such as behavior modification and what’s known as the “therapeutic lie,” have proven ineffective.

“We need to reach out and do a better job of trying to communicate with people with these types of diseases,” Richards told the Press-Republican.


Feil teaches that such people often use symbols to represent unresolved issues from their past.

For example, a woman suffering from dementia might accuse her caregiver of stealing her wedding ring, she said, but perhaps what the woman is really trying to express is sorrow over the loss of her youth and the life she once led.

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